International outrage is building about a court case in Tomsk, Siberia, where prosecutors, backed by the Russsian Federal Security Service and the Russian Orthodox Church, are attempting to have Bhagavad-gita–the primary sacred text for hundreds of millions of Hindus–banned as “extremist literature.”
On December 20th, Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna announced in the Lok Sabha House of Parliament that the Government of India has taken up the Bhagavad Gita controversy with the highest levels of Russian government, and hopes for a resolution. His full statement follows below:
Hon’ble Madam Speaker,
I rise to make a statement on a Court hearing in a Russian city on the Bhagwad Gita that was raised in this august House yesterday by Hon’ble Members Shri Bhartruhari Mahtab, Shri Mulayam Singh Yadav ji, Shri Sharad Yadav ji, Shri Lalu Prasad ji, Shri Hukumdev Narayan Yadav ji, Shri V. Aruna Kumar and Dr. Prasanna Kumar Patasani. A number of other Hon’ble members also conveyed their deep sense of anguish over this issue. At the outset, allow me to mention that I fully share the sentiments expressed by the Hon’ble Members of the House on this issue.
Hon’ble Members referred to media reports about a hearing conducted by a Court in the Russian city of Tomsk on whether a Russian language commentary on the Bhagwad Gita qualifies as “extremist” literature. I would like to inform this august House of the facts of this case.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has been functioning in Russia for decades. ISKCON has faced periodic problems with respect to its properties and functioning in Moscow and elsewhere. On occasion, our Embassy has intervened on behalf of ISKCON with the local city authorities as well as with the Russian Government.
ISKCON conveyed to our Embassy that its branch in Tomsk, Eastern Siberia, had received a notice in June 2011, of a complaint filed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the local court. This complaint, apparently driven by some local individuals, was to the effect that the third Russian edition of the publication “Bhagwad Gita As It is” – a translation of a commentary by Swami Prabhupada, founder of ISKCON – had certain portions that were ‘objectionable’ and ‘extremist’ in nature.
Following the initial proceedings in August 2011, the District Court appointed its own three member expert group from the University of Kemerovo (in Siberia), which was to submit a report within three months. The final hearing in the Tomsk District Court was due on December 19, 2011, but has been rescheduled for December 28, 2011, as the Court has agreed to seek the opinion of the Russian Ombudsman on Human Rights in Tomsk District, and of Indologists from Moscow and St. Petersburg, who have greater knowledge and expertise on India.
Officials of the Embassy of India in Moscow and our Ambassador have been in regular touch with the local representatives of ISKCON, since this matter came to light in June 2011.
ISKCON representatives were advised to take legal recourse to counter this misdirected complaint. We have also taken up this matter at the senior levels of the Russian Government. The Ministry of External Affairs has been in regular touch with our Embassy in Moscow on this issue. The matter was also taken up with the Russian Ambassador based in India, H.E. Mr. Alexander Kadakin who is himself a well-known Indologist. In fact the Ambassador has been publicly critical of this episode. He has stated that Bhagavad-Gita is a great source of wisdom for the people of India and the world. He also said that Russia is a secular and democratic country where all religions enjoy equal respect.
The complaint in a local Russian court appears to be the work of some ignorant and misdirected or motivated individuals. While this complaint is patently absurd, we have treated this matter seriously and the Embassy of India is closely monitoring this legal case.
Hon’ble Members would agree that the Bhagwad Gita is not simply a religious text; it is one of the defining treatises of Indian thought and describes the very soul of our great civilization. The Gita is far above any cheap propaganda or attacks by the ignorant or the misdirected. In Russia itself, we have many great Indologists, scholars and experts who understand the essence of the Gita and have written on it with reverence and passion. We do not want to dignify with too much attention some misdirected individuals who have filed an absurd complaint. We are confident that our Russian friends, who understand our civilizational values and cultural sensitivities, will resolve this matter appropriately.
20 Dec. 11
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies